The audiences went much as they had the day prior, except a bit hurried, as the guards were trying to get through everyone who’d come before the time for audiences was over at lunch. This time I recognized Hadella, sitting at a table off to the right with a couple scribes, feverishly writing while the scribes wrote down the names and towns of each person and their gift, or the details of their dispute if they had one. They rarely spoke to one-another, but occasionally I saw the flutter of a joke pass between the leanyod and the scribes. I watched Hadella drip deep red wax on letter after letter and press them with the signet ring of the Countess.
At lunch, we ate quickly, and Hadella barely at all before she left with the steward to go over preparations for the journey. I followed the Countess and the others to the Countess’s chambers. Her rooms were guarded by a beautiful dark wood door, and every inch of the walls inside were covered in tapestries. Her bed was canopied and curtained in red, and the fireplace stones were carved with little horses, hounds, and falcons. The legs of the chairs and couches were shaped like bird claws, and beautiful woven blankets were draped over every piece of furniture. Instead of a wardrobe in the corner, a door stood open to an enormous dressing room. Six large trunks, obviously out of place, sat in the center of the room, their gaping mouths open, and two of them already full.
The Countess sank into a chair while the leanyodi, Galo at the head, headed straight for the dressing room. I followed them. Galo went to the racks of clothes and started making selections, handing them off to the nearest leanyod who would carry the gown out and start the process of packing it into a trunk. I fell into the line behind Brell and helped shuttle dresses from Galo to Karolya, who’d taken over direction of carefully packing each voluminous gown into the trunks. The clothes were spectacular, layers of taffeta and silks from the south, brocade bodices, and collars made of feathers, fur, or boned silk. There were headdresses, too. Some small webs of lace, others enormous, framed with gold and topped with feathers. Galo handed me a boned bodice covered in red lace and exquisite bead work. I couldn’t help bending close to inspect the glittering swoops, which I realized were the graceful figures of leaping deer only after I’d admired them for a moment.
“This is her gown for the presentation after the wedding,” explained Galo, handing voluminous skirts to Brell, and then enormous circles of what looked like basket reeds strung together with ribbon.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, just to say something, as I tried to imagine moving in that much fabric. I followed Brell out to where Karolya waited to pack the red dress into one of the trunks. A green gown was next, deep as forest shade, and as sleek as the red dress was huge. It glittered with beadwork that evoked trees and leaves.
“The wedding gown,” whispered Brell as we walked back into the dressing room.
I caught the Countess staring at the green gown as it was laid carefully atop the red one. Alone with her leanyodi bustling around her, she’d let the mask of her office slip, and her face was hollow. She looked like a little girl, frightened and small facing a crowd of strangers.
I knew before Brell said, “It was a gift from Ilya Terr. Traditional elven wedding gown.”
My own clothing, which I’d brought with me to Wuhnravinwel, was waiting clean, dry, and folded in a tidy pile on the desk in my chambers when I returned after dinner. I ran my hands fondly over the simple fabrics before retrieving my saddlebags and carefully packing my shirts, breeches, and underthings inside. A trunk had also been left in my chambers, mostly packed already with the symbolic clothing of the leanyodi. It was work to weedle my saddle bags into place without scrunching the layers too badly. I noticed, to my relief, some plain clothes mixed in with the high collared coats with their matching trousers, and the vibrant dresses.
The clothes hanging in the wardrobe for tomorrow were in browns, a fine linen shirt, a jacket cut for riding, breeches and tall supple boots. Travel clothes. I went out again to visit with Quill and Eliah, none of us had anything significant to show for the day, and when I returned servants had collected the trunk. We’d be leaving first thing in the morning to make the weeklong journey to Gar Morwen.
I took the time for a long, luxurious bath, before retiring for the last night in Wuhnravinwel.
The Countess’s retinue commanded four full coaches, each loaded with baggage. The Countess and four leanyodi rode in one, six more leanyodi and a handful of choice servants and staff—including sunny old Pontikel—rode in the others. Druskin and his men rode before and behind, and extra riding horses were tethered behind each coach for those times when the Countess or anyone, really, desired to ride a horse instead.
I rode with the Countess, Brell, Galo, Hadella. Quill and Eliah were riding with Druskin’s men, and I wished I were riding with them. I had never been overly fond of riding in carriages. I didn’t like the feeling of being dragged along and unable to see where I was going. It was too much like being a prisoner. Brell spent the better part of the morning trying to teach a reluctant Hadella the basics of Terrim. The Countess stared out the coach window at the passing moors and said little. Galo was equally quiet, her eyes also on the window, though from her angle she’d mostly see Druskin’s back as he rode slightly ahead of the carriage. I spent most of the morning wondering how long was polite before I switched to riding a horse. The sun shone between billowing clouds that cast swift shadows over the land. It would be quite warm without the stiff breeze that swept almost unhindered over the rolling hills and wisped fresh air into the carriages.
Around noon, the caravan stopped to rest and I finally climbed out of the coach. My knives had been jostled and jammed into my back and I took my time trying to stretch the kinks out while servants, supervised by Hadella, spread blankets in the grass and set out food. We’d sidled the carriages just off the road in a flat, grassy area, so they wouldn’t impede anyone else who happened by. There was a stream not far, and some of the guards were busy unhitching the horses to bring them for a drink. I spotted Quill and Eliah helping the guards rub down the horses and stopped to watch from where I stood near the carriages.
“You investigators are so mysterious,” Brell stopped at my elbow.
I glanced at her, “How so?”
She shrugged and jerked her chin at Quill and Eliah, “You—whoever taught you Angari was very good. Her accent is definitely from Daiesen Bay, but his…his shifts like the currents of a river. He mostly wears Magadarian clothing, and it’s nice clothing, so well-tailored—he’s obviously successful and from Tirien knows where. And he’s so handsome.”
Perhaps Quill would be the one to break a heart this time. “We’re mercenaries, Brell,” I said quietly, putting a shushing hand on her elbow, “We go where the work is and stick with the people we can rely on.”
“Yes, I know. It sounds so wild and free. Very mysterious.” She tossed me a wicked grin. “Let’s go say hello.”
I balked, but Brell was already moving. I didn’t love the idea of following the pretty Brell over so she could flirt with Quill, but I found I liked being left behind even less so I fell into step beside her as she wound through men and horses.
Eliah saw us coming first and I saw her speak to Quill, who turned to face us. “Leanyodi,” he bowed.
“How’s the journey for you, Quilleran, Eliah?” asked Brell, inclining her head in acknowledgement.
“It’s a splendid day to ride,” replied Quill.
“Couldn’t have asked for better,” added Eliah.
They were both clearly puzzled by the visit. I didn’t roll my eyes, only because there were plenty of guards watering horses just feet away.
“Would you care to join us at our blanket for lunch?” Brell offered warmly.
“We would be honored,” Quill gave us both the same smile.
“Excellent,” Brell turned on her heel and went back the way we’d come.
I followed her, “That’s it?” I asked.
“And now they’re having lunch with us.” Brell winked at me. “It’s all about strategy. You don’t just march up to someone and ask for their life’s story. You’re an investigator, you should know that.”
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